I didn't want to be alone.

You could say I was crazy, taking her in just like that, but in all honesty, it gave me something to take my mind off the fact that I was nearing thirty five without so much as a whisper of a family.

“Hi, I’m Marise!” she casually informed me on the day I met her, grinning wildly as children do.

Let me give you some back story. I’m a teacher at the elementary school here in the small town of Coleville, been here all my life. I was reminded all too much that I was lacking a significant other by the kids I teach, but I guess I just never found the right person. Anyway, Marise turned up one day to my class, and by turned up, I mean she literally just walked through the door; she wasn’t on any school roll and we couldn’t pry any information about her parents or where she lived out of her. We all felt a bit sorry for her so we decided to let her stay, as she had a keen passion for learning.

Fast forward a few months; after class I get curious and asked again where she stays after school, though this time she breaks her usual confident character, becoming fascinated by her shoes before muttering, “I don’t really have anywhere to stay...”

What would you do? It’s not as if I can just turn a little girl back to the streets. I drive her back to my place after school on a Friday, wary of how suspicious I must look, even though I do occasionally give my students one on one sessions at my home. She runs through my door as soon as it’s open, jumping onto my couch excitedly, yelling, “Is this where I get to sleep?” I nod and she seems overjoyed. I wonder what horrible things she must have been sleeping on all these months.

I began to like having her in the house. In a way she was the daughter I never had. After a while, I began to worry that she did in fact have parents and that they would be terrified, not knowing where their daughter was. One day I confronted her about it while she was drawing, telling her that was important that I know where and who they are. As I finished the sentence I saw her expression change. Her inquisitive features dropped into neutrality; a complete withdrawal of emotion or thought. A cold primal fear clasped my insides. It barely lasted a second before she was back to her smiling self though, laughing the question off and carrying on with her drawing. I was too stunned to push the question again.

And don’t think I didn’t consider going to the police; I almost did on several occasions. I just figured it would be a bad look asking if there were any missing girls in the area, especially considering I had one at my house, and for a few weeks too. I ended up looking online for local missing children, and there were surprisingly many for such a small town, although I had seen on the news that almost all of these kids were found alive, as well as warnings to keep your kids safe, but none were Marise.

I came home from shopping one day to find the house deadly quiet. I figured she was out gallivanting as she often did. I put down the groceries on the counter. A frantic, coarse yell ripped through the house, nearly giving me a heart attack. My heart beating ten times faster than it should have been, I turned around to see Marise standing in the corner of the room, now silent as a mouse, facing the wall. I must have missed her when I walked in. I blurt out, “Marise, what’s wrong?”

As she turns her head to me I saw that same expression as before, sending ice through my veins.

“Nothing.” She smiled.

The next few weeks unnerved me more than anything in my life. I would watch her at school making new friends every day as usual, however, only now did I realise that the kids who were going missing were friends of Marise, coming back a few days later, only... different. They lacked the sparkle in their eye; the spring in their step. I loved Marise as I would love my own daughter, but I was simultaneously terrified of her. I chose not to ask questions.

One afternoon I brought back another student, as he was having difficulty with a certain math problem. We were sitting at the table when I excused myself to the bathroom. From inside I could hear Marise talking to him, even laughing with him. I was listening to the sound of their voices when suddenly they both fell silent, and I mean silent. I could not hear a single sound outside the bathroom. I opened the door and saw the kid face down on the desk with Marise right next to him looking at me with her expressionless face. I nearly ran, but I realised I had to get this kid to a hospital. I told Marise to wait there, as I put the kid in my car.

As I drove off Marise said, “I like when you bring other kids round to play!”

The kid awoke from his coma three days later, and didn’t remember what had happened, and like the rest, he was different. The doctors had no idea what happened, so they told his parents to keep an eye out for any similar incidents. As much as I was scared of Marise, I was even more scared of losing her. I convinced myself that she was troubled and that I could help. After some time I recognized the relation between what she was doing to the kids, and her awful screams and mood swings. The other kids seemed to make her happier. So I brought another child home for tutoring. And another. And another. Each time I told myself this would be the last one she needs.

I didn’t want to be alone.